Mick Jenkins has been an MC to watch since he released his mixtape The Water[s] in the summer of 2014. Over ominous soundscapes, Mick offered a gloomy and pointed take on the ills of the world. It wasn't his first project, but it served as a breakout project—the first time hip-hop at large, including Complex, took notice of the young, intense Chicago rapper.

In the two years since, he's released several loosies, delivered impressive features, taken his act on the road, and dropped a follow up tape, Wave[s]. Most of this output stands in contrast to the brooding The Water[s]: upbeat lyrics, sophisticated song construction, and an ability to loosen up.

On his new debut album The Healing Component, he’s trying to spread love. Here’s why.

The Healing Component is love. Spread love. That's the idea behind it. It was actually what The Water[s] was supposed to be called. I’m glad I waited on that.  

You’ve been working on it for two years, but you feel like the last seven months is when the tracks started coming together?
No, that’s when I’ve really been hitting my stride. I’ve been making a lot of music, but not necessarily for one project. And there was a lot we thought were going to go, that didn’t end up going. In the last seven months, we’ve been really cranking out some dope records. Like “Daniel’s Bloom,” Spread Love,” “Plugged.” These are all songs that I really, really love. That came out in a very short period of time. “Spread Love” and “Daniel’s Boom” are defining records.

People don’t realize how much of it is just thinking. Trying to get out what this story is gonna look like. And trying to figure out what I’m trying to say. A track like “Spread Love” came together in 30 minutes in the studio. But that just didn’t come from those 30 minutes, you know what I’m saying? All of that living and learning, and trying to figure that shit out mentally, is being finished in that moment.

But there’s still a sense of business and time and life, you know? Wanting to feel busy. Wanting to be busy. Do you feel busy when you’re thinking of ideas?
I’ve been blessed to be able to work in a very different way than most people I’ve experienced. When I decided to work on Wave[s], I was thinking, “Man, it would be dope if I was better at choruses and bridges. Let me explore this real quick.” Even though I was creating Wave[s], it was for a purpose outside of that.

I’m ten songs into the next album. And then I’ve also got some super, super grimy rap shit that I’ve been working on. I’m like three tracks into that. I can separate those things and write them all at the same time.

This newest joint feels like the marriage of Wave[s] and The Water[s].
I look back at The Water[s] and it was a little dark. Even when I perform [that album] at shows, it’s not something that makes people feel good in the same way that “Spread Love” does. “Martyrs” is a dark song. “Jazz” is a dark song. “Dehydration” is a dark song.

For The Healing Component I wanted it to be more all-encompassing. I was paying attention to hooks and melodies and popular shit in general. People look at one-hit wonders and just chalk it to the game. But it’s like, Nah, there’s a reason why it’s that song and not that song. There’s a reason, so I was just digging deeper into what that is. That’s what Wave[s] was. I found a vibe and a lane that I know I can hit now, that I would’ve never discovered if I didn’t venture into it.

I took that and brought it back to what I’m great at, which is rapping. I think a track like “Spread Love” exemplifies that to the fullest extent.

The subject matter on this project discusses the idea of love in various forms: self-love, love within relationships, romantic or otherwise. Why love?
To say that love is the healing component comes from God. That’s where my beliefs are based. Being raised Christian. When Jesus was on the earth, he was just spreading love. Even in the face of some really insane hate. Spitting in his face, they threw my mans on the cross. Through it all he had a meek and humble demeanor. Merciful, you know? That was his whole aura.

I think when people hear that love is the answer, it can sound really cheesy and silly and funny. And naive to believe. But that’s how you change people on a personal level. Twenty people could talk about love and not all agree on what it is, or how it looks, or how it should be shown. That’s a conversation that needs to be had, especially during a time when people like to focus on negativity. We see it so much and people are wondering what to do about it—where to take the fight about certain injustices.

There are so many conversations that we need to have, that we feel like we can’t have. I feel like sexist conversations, racist conversations. If we’re going to have them and be genuine about them, there is ignorance that we’re going to hear. If you jump on it every time, how are we going to move past it?

The reality of it for me is, there is a system in place. And all that’s going to happen to the system is that we’re going to change what it’s masked as, what it’s disguised as. It’s gonna be here, you know what I’m saying? So where do I then take the battle?

I’ve got to resolve in me that I’m going to be better and do better, and hope that it affects the people around me. I have a following. If “spread love”—the song, the hashtag, that mantra—can ring out at the shows just like “drink more water” did and inspires people to spread love in various ways, then I’m doing work.

Love has to be the hardest shit to define. I was once talking to someone about the idea of unconditional love. People always say, “I want that unconditional love.” But I was telling her that most love comes with conditions.
Most of our love comes with conditions. God, Jesus had unconditional love. So if we’re supposed to be mirroring that love, then there aren’t different levels of love. We created different levels of love. But Jesus, God—if his love is consistent then he loves his momma, and his brother, and his sister, and his girlfriend, and the stranger, all the same. All the time.

We’re the ones who pick and choose. It’s hard for us to embrace the idea of unconditional. Because we live in a world where there’s nuance and choice and preference.
Oh, it’s us. For sure. In the same way that racism can be learned before it’s realized. There can be a racist 11-year-old, who has no idea because all they’re doing is growing up as they’re being taught. And even if they’ve had no opportunity to be blatantly racist toward you. Even if they wouldn’t be when they walk past you, doesn’t mean they aren’t. In the same way that that can be passed generation to generation, so has the idea and the understanding of love.

I actually did a documentary about love when I was like a sophomore in college. I think it’s essential into understanding me and my thought process.  

My take on it was, love is a conversation.  
I think that’s something that’s imperative. There are so many conversations that we need to have, that we feel like we can’t have. I feel like sexist conversations, racist conversations. If we’re going to have them and be genuine about them, there is ignorance that we’re going to hear. If you jump on it every time, how are we going to move past it?

While love is a consistent thread on this project, there’s still an aggressive element to the music. Like, “I’m ready to kick mothafuckas.”
I could still just go crazy, very much so. On some competitive shit. Niggas talk Kendrick, J. Cole, Jay Electronica, whoever. It’s like man, y’all crazy? I can rap.

Do you feel like everyone is buddy-buddy today, and that it’s not as cool to have competition unless it’s true conflict?  
The thing is, I think niggas still do that, but it’s just what it’s perceived as. If Drake really comes back at Kendrick, people think there is a real problem. And then if they’re seen dapping each other up it’s just like, “Y’all both fake as hell.” But it’s like, “We just rapping.” The lines are blurred as far as what’s rapping and what’s real.

I would love for the competitive nature to come back a little bit more. I feel like it would give niggas the room to stand on their own opinions. Now niggas can’t have an opinion because they’re scared of hurting people’s feelings. It’s not even that deep all the time.

It’s the same thing for how beef. Back in the day, there were real beefs, and back in the day there was people just rapping at each other too. Both of those things existed. Anybody that I would have beef with is ‘cause it’s a real beef. I fuck with Kirk, and Joey, and GoldLink, and Chance, and Vic. In person we talk competitive shit—might even talk shit on Twitter. But it ain’t gonna really get much further than that, unless niggas have a real problem, you know?